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By: Leanne Potts
Size problems. Shade problems. The wind-is-blowing-our-cocktails-over problems.
Summertiiiime and the living is supposed to be easy — but not if you live on a hot mess of a patio.
Whether it’s dying plants, a view of your neighbor’s garbage cans, or mosquitos that threaten to drain you before you can drain a beer, patios tend to develop some chill-disrupting problems. Here’s some of the more annoying ones, and how to fix them.
#1 My Patio Is Too Small:
Train a vine to grow up a wall, hang plants from the roof, or set potted plants on shelves on the wall. “Anything that draws the eye upward makes the space feel larger,” says Brian Patrick Flynn, designer from “HGTV Dream Home.”
Tying the patio space visually to your yard will also make it feel larger, too. Layer plants around the patio’s edge — short ones at the front and taller ones as you get farther from the patio. Don’t have planting beds? Use containers of plants to get the same effect.
#2 My Patio Is Near a Busy Street:
Nothing kills a patio buzz like a swarm of noisy traffic. A masonry wall is the best way block the car horns and sirens, of course, but that’s a large and expensive project.
A cheaper, simpler option: Make a living wall of plants. A dense planting can cut noise by as much as 10%.
Or create your own noise. Try installing a fountain. Even though the sound of gurgling water won’t drown out all the street sounds, it will mitigate them and soothe your noise-battered soul.
Playing music or white noise over an outdoor Bluetooth speaker can also knock down noise. Try some rainforest-themed white noise to make your patio feel like it’s surrounded by jungle birds, not a highway of V-6 engines.
#3 There’s Too Much Shade — I Can’t Grow Anything:
Yes, you can. You can grow plants that like shade. Ferns, hostas, palms, banana trees, and a gaggle of other plants will adore your shady patio.
They have nice leaves, but don’t bloom much. If you must have flowers, plant them in containers and place them in sunny spots in the yard. Move them on the patio when you have guests over.
If moving 25-pound containers of begonias isn’t your thing (fair), go with fake flowers.
Put a bouquet of iron or wooden yard-art flowers in a pot, hang some flower-themed art on a wall, or upholster your furniture in a botanical print to add color to a patio or deck that’s overcome by shade.
Note: Never use silk flowers. Ever. They’re perfectly suitable for cemeteries, but that’s about it. Unless you’re going for a uniquely morose patio theme, steer clear.
#4 There’s No Shade:
A sail shade is the simplest, fastest, and cheapest solution to provide shelter from the sun. It gives you shade where you want it, when you want it.
If you can wait a year for shade, train vines to grow overhead on a pergola, which is a more permanent (and value-adding) solution than a shade. Not only will the vine shield you from the sun, but also it will lower the air temperature, thanks to the magic of transpiration.
When the air heats up, the vines’ leaves release water into the air. It’s nature’s air conditioning. The best solution: Keep that sail shade up until the vines have covered the pergola.
#5 My Neighbors Are Too Close:
If your neighbor’s gaze is an uninvited guest at every patio party, put space between you and them with plants.
Install a sheet of lattice on the side of your patio closest to the neighbors, and train a fast-growing, leafy vine like ivy or jasmine to climb up the side of it. Looks like a garden, acts like a privacy fence.
How’s that for polite but effective? If you want privacy faster, line up a row of big planters filled with tall evergreens along the patio’s edge. Outdoor drapes work, too. Close them when you want some peep-proof outdoor time.
#6 The Wind Is Blowing Our Cocktails Over:
See above. A lattice wall or row of heavy planters filled with tall plantings can make a great windbreak as well as a privacy screen.
If your nuisance wind comes from varying directions, put the containers on rolling plant stands and move them so they block the wind as needed. Another solution: Heavy-duty outdoor curtains made of marine-grade fabric with weighted hems.
#7 My Patio Has No View:
In a perfect world, a knockout view is just part of the patio package. In reality, you might be gazing at the neighbor’s swing set or the side of their garage. If painting a sunset mural on the garage is out of the question, adjust your gaze inward, rather than out with a focal point on your patio.
“Hang an outdoor mirror, install a sculpture, or water feature, or create a wall covered in unique materials like stacked stone or painted a bright color,” Flynn says. Even stringing twinkly party lights around the edge of the roof, or on your oversized plants, will make your patio more scenic and give you something to look at.
#8 We’re Being Carried Off by Bugs:
Your gentle breeze is an insect’s hurricane. Make your patio a permanent Category 5 for pests with an outdoor fan. At night, use an LED bulb with a Kelvin rating lower than 3,000. It produces a yellow light that’s less appealing to bugs.
Or battle nature with nature. Invite bats and birds to your yard. They’ll eat the bugs that are trying to eat you. Hang a bird feeder and a bat house, and provide a source of clean water for them to drink. (Use a fountain to keep the water moving, so mosquitos won’t breed in it.)
And don’t be silly. Bats won’t hurt you. Scare the bejesus out of you, maybe. But you’ll get used to them. The bugs won’t.